Parents will never have a real voice in education policy until they have their own independent representative body, free of interference from teachers or local authorities, a conference was told this week.
The Campaign for State Education (CASE) is warning that the Government's plans to give parents voting rights on council education committees run the risk of tokenism if the parent is isolated and does not have channels of communication with other parents.
The Education Bill, currently going through its committee stage, ensures that there will be at least one parent with voting rights on council education committees. About a third of local authorities already have a parent representative, but Margaret Tulloch, CASE's chief executive, said parental involvement remained patchy.
CASE is now campaigning for a National Parents' Council to give parents a voice at Government level and complement the National Teaching Council. At school level, the problem is that there are no mechanisms for parent governors to consult other parents in the school, CASE says.
"Many parents do not know who their parent governors are or how to reach them". Delegates also said many parents were intimidated by the middle-class, authoritarian ambience of the governing body and would never dream of becoming a governor, but these parents should nevertheless be heard. Parent-governors can also be "wary of rocking the boat" in case there were repercussions for their children.
CASE wants the Government to require every school to set up parents' councils, with representatives for each age group, elected by parents, something which already happens in France, Germany and Denmark.
CASE believes that the schools' parents council should not be distracted by fundraising or social activities.